21 August 2009

New Semester

The new semester at NAU is almost here, and you know what that means! PJ/One is going to be starting up very soon. Look for an email in the next week from Peter Schwepker with information regarding a date and time for our first meeting!

Some of our students had the opportunity to take advantage of their summers and did some great work. Mike Thompson finished an internship out in beautiful Tahoe and will be speaking to PJ/One about his experience sometime in the next month. He came away with some incredible images and an experience that has helped shape the way he sees through the viewfinder.

Aside from Mike, it will be a surprise to see what the rest of our students, alumni and other members have been shooting over the summer. Please remember to bring a USB Stick or CD or whatever else you might want with some new images from the summer. For those who missed the last couple meets in the spring, we now have a really cool projector and a big screen to view pictures on. No more of looking at tiny little pictures on a tiny little computer screen from 10 meters away!

Change of gears...

Peter has asked me to write a little something about my summer.

For those of you who don't know me, I'm Tim Martin. I was going to be running PJ/One during the 2009/2010 school year. Lots has changed over the summer and I will be unable to run the club this year. In one of the first few meetings we will be electing a new President.

This blog and PJ/One's flickr page (along with all the other techie stuff) are being passed on to Jerry Foreman.

About my summer...
(To save time, this is basically copy/pasted from my personal blog at http://tdmphoto.blogspot.com/ with some stuff added at the end)

Above is a slideshow of 100 images from the last three months. The first 99 from Asia and the last one being the opening photo of my newest project in the States.

When summer 2009 rolled around I was very excited. I was going to Asia. The plan was to spend time in Hong Kong with my cousin and do some shoots for the cycling shop and then check out China and parts of Southeast Asia. After the trip of a lifetime I planned on going back to school and finishing my degree with three semesters left (more appeals got rejected).

How much things change.

Arriving in Hong Kong was amazing and I spent a month in the country before heading into China. Hong Kong took me by surprise. I thought it was just a big city on a small island off the southern coast of China. How wrong I was. HK is an amazing place in more ways than I can describe. Sure it has its downsides, but the positive things I have to say far outweigh the negatives.

China was an experience that I will always hold close and also one that changed me. Taking trains for more than 6000km from Hong Kong/Shenzhen to Kashgar was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The people I met, sights I saw and things I did were beyond anything I had imagined. Shooting a portrait series/project on the ethnic Uighur population in the Xinjiang Province was the hardest thing I had ever photographed to date. To see an entire culture being wiped off the face of the Earth by the Han Chinese and Beijing was just plain overpowering. To photograph the beauty found in Xinjiang and capture the essence of the average Uighurs (not the ones involved in the riots) through portraiture was an intensive undertaking.

From Kashgar, China I had several different options. I could take trains or fly back through China and return to Hong Kong, spend a week in Urumqi and get a Kazak Visa or go to Pakistan and do a Visa On Arrival.

I'm a firm believer in the age-old adage that 'You only live once.' So I went to Pakistan. Having lived in the 'Western World' for my entire life, I had an image of Pakistan in my mind that was absolutely nothing like what I found after arriving there. In the Northern Areas, the people are by far the most friendly and hospitable of any I have met in any part of the world I have seen so far. The Pakistani and Hunza cultures are unlike anything portrayed in Western media. In addition to the people of the Northern Areas, the landscapes were impressive beyond description. Having been to many of the supposed 'most beautiful' places in the States and working as a backpacking guide for two summers, I thought I had seen some fairly impressive and beautiful parts of the world. Wrong again. Northern Pakistan is the most beautiful place I have ever seen and I am so glad I had the opportunity to experience it.

From Pakistan, things got a little convoluted. There was a choice between spending three weeks in Rawalpindi/Islamabad waiting for an India Visa or flying back to Hong Kong with a stop in Singapore. I chose to fly back, having missed apparant luxuries like toilets you sit down on and clean food that doesn't have swarms of flies so thick you have to be on permanent fly-patrol with one hand and eat with the other.

Singapore was horribly boring and I only spent one night there. It was nice to see an old friend, but after catching up and seeing the institutionalized nature of the island nation, I was ready to go back to Hong Kong.

Spent a little while there and enjoyed the outdoors with lots of cycling and hiking through jungle terrain and peaks that can only be reached by a deathly amount of oversized stone steps.

Next up was the Philippines.

I'm sure the Philippines is a wonderful country in its own regard, but I was not able to experience the wonderful parts. Flew to the northern island of Luzon and spent some time in the greater Manila area and also took a short trip up to the rice paddies made famous by UNESCO. Also took a ferry from Manila to Cebu, which was quite an experience.

What made the Philippines not very enjoyable for me was the stereotypes and overwhealming American pop culture that has been exported into the country.

I am white, male, 22 years old and travel alone. In the Philippines, that means one thing and one thing only: sex vacation. The amount of hostility and abrasive behavior from a vast majority of the people I happened upon was downright depressing. Not all young American men go to the Philippines to have sex with underage girls.

The best experience I had in the country was on the ferry from Manila to Cebu. While eating breakfast a woman came to my table and sat down and started talking to me. Turns out that she was a sex worker at a house in Manila and had just quit her job to return home to her family in Cebu City. After she found out I wasn't interested in having sex, she opened up and told me her life story and about her work in Manila. I would not trade this conversation for anything because it was so powerful in every way. To personally hear the perspective of one of the other sides of the story is something not many people have a chance to do.

Flew from Cebu back to Hong Kong and spent my remaining time in Asia there. Enjoyed more of the incredible food, made new friends and started preparing for the long rocky road after my flight back to the States.

I am currently in Flagstaff, AZ, but will not be here much longer.

I will not be returning to NAU to finish school. University is meant for some people and not meant for others. I'm one of those 'others,' at least in the States. While in Asia my photography improved beyond comparison to where it was before. I have a direction and vision for my career and do not want to lose that.

In the next couple of months I will be working on a rather subjective personal project before attending the Eddie Adams Workshop in October and moving to Asia afterward.


Having the opportunity to go out on my own with a camera in hand and without an editor in my head or a strict schedule to follow five days a week I was able to just shoot, day in and day out. Personal projects and images that I personally wanted to work on in addition to a tiny bit of freelancing on the side was the best thing that I could have done this summer.

When professors or fellow photographers or anyone else mentions that the best way to improve your photography is through personal work, they are telling the truth. Speaking from experience, it really does do wonders. Looking at my portfolio from six months ago is painful because the images now look horrible to me. Without personal projects and shooting on my own, I would still be at the same level I was six months ago.

The photography world is rapidly changing and the amount of cameras being used and people using them is increasing exponentially. To paraphrase a quote that I hold close to heart, there are countless more pictures being taken today, but the number of photographers is dwindling to almost zero.

Of everything I learned this summer (photographically speaking) the most important is to just be yourself. Don't try to imitate someone else's style or copy their techniques. Take a look at them, get inspired, adjust your technical skills when you learn something new, but just be yourself. Develop a style of your own and really push hard to keep breaking the limits of your own photography. No matter how good you think you are or how much you shoot, there is always room for improvement. There is always a better angle, a better technique, a better everything. Just push and push as hard as you can to find these and you won't regret the sleepless nights of sorting and editing or long days without a break. In the end, it is all worth it and the personal satisfaction is more rewarding than almost anything else.

I'm very thankful to PJ/One for all of the opportunities they have created for me and to my fellow members for opening my eyes to a new world of photography.

Best regards,

Tim "Squirt" Martin

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